Virginia Tech is playing a significant role in shaping science education across Virginia by hosting elementary school teachers this summer for hands-on, minds-on training that also benefits local elementary-age students.

Starting today, 29 teachers will gather on campus until July 16 for a professional development institute designed to shift science instruction from the typical teacher-led, lecture-driven classroom to a problem-based learning environment.

Since 2011 the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) has conducted Elementary Science Institutes, held at four sites across the state, to encourage students and teachers to work as scientific investigators and use innovative, critical thinking to help solve society’s most complicated issues.

Sue Magliaro, a Virginia Tech professor of education, affirms the high quality of this intensive professional development and outreach experience. 

“The VISTA Elementary Science Institute has proved to be an optimal professional development experience for elementary teachers because it includes everyone who contributes to successful STEM educational experiences in daily practice:  teachers, parents, students, principals, and science supervisors,” said Magliaro, who is also director of VT-STEM.

VISTA is funded by a five-year, $34 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the Investing in Innovation program, which includes a $5.7 million private-sector match. Magliaro is a co-principal investigator on the grant.

The institutes begin by teaching educators how to present a specific problem to students and by developing a scenario to engage students in a process to solve it.

The experience includes a two-week embedded camp for students with high needs from local schools. The camp allows the VISTA-trained teachers to work with students on timely and engaging issues such as how to create a more energy-independent Virginia, build a rocket, or clean up a local river.

This year, teachers and students will explore climate change. They are working with university scientists and experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as Robin Reed, chief meteorologist at Roanoke-based television station WDBJ-7, to develop the scientific knowledge and practices to tackle this issue.

Teachers from the following schools will attend the Elementary Science Institute and camp:

  • Gladesboro and Hillsville Elementary, Carroll County;
  • Check Elementary, Floyd County;
  • Falling Branch Elementary, Montgomery County;
  • Belle Heth Elementary, Radford City;
  • Morningside and Round Hill Elementary, Roanoke City;
  • Clearbrook, Fort Lewis, and W.E. Cundiff Elementary, Roanoke County;
  • John W. Wayland Elementary, Rockingham County;
  • G. W. Carver Elementary, Salem City;
  • Watauga Elementary, Washington County;
  • Rural Retreat Elementary, Wythe County.

Campers in grades 4 through 7 will hail from Belview, Falling Branch, Prices Fork, and Eastern Montgomery elementary schools in Montgomery County, and Macy McClaugherty, Narrows, and Eastern Elementary-Middle schools in Giles County.

The institutes have already served more than 380 teachers in total. This summer, they will host more than 130 teachers. Statewide, VISTA has included more than 500 educators in its programs, with 625,000 students benefiting from VISTA curriculum and instruction.

In addition to the Virginia Tech campus, summer institutes are held at George Mason University, William & Mary, and Virginia Commonwealth University. VISTA is a collaboration among those schools as well as the University of Virginia and James Madison University. 

Oregon State University directs the independent evaluation of the VISTA program.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.